Friday 11 December 2009

Caption Contest: Geoff Hoon

The whites of Chris Grayling's eyes

It was Chancellor Alistair Darling's pre-budget report statement in the Commons and I and several other hacks were eagerly paying attention to events.

I don't mean the actual statement, of course – Darling can bore a man so badly that all the blood runs out of his head.

In fact, I think that actually happened to one MP.

The poor soul was Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling; his melon head flopped back and his eyeballs rolled up so that all you could see was white – very freaky.

Read the Evening Post parliamentary correspondent's column here.

Needed something to cheer me up...

...and this usually works.

When is a shed, not a shed?

My mouse-scrolling finger is feeling a little bit worn this morning.

I spent hours yesterday sifting through a mass of MPs’ expenses so sorry for the lack of blogage.

Anyway, a couple of neat items popped up. A cabin with a glazed veranda – costing the taxpayer £1,000 – which an MP managed to squeeze past officials by saying it was replacing a dilapidated old shed.

It would have had to replace something because MPs weren’t allowed to “upgrade” their garden under rules at the time, only replace things.

And then there was the £50 for dog minding – part of an invoice charged to another member by a decorator who would only take on the job if someone was paid to watch his pooch while he did it.

This is the last time there’ll be such a load of expenses released at once as they’ll now be done on a quarterly basis. That will hopefully start to normalise the whole expenses issue.

You can’t escape the feeling that a reason the story still has so much mileage – a part from the fact that documents were released and the Legg Review is pending – is that it still feels novel to get the insight into someone’s private life that the receipts give.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Clarke drives a wedge...

Big beast Ken Clarke was trying to cause friction between two neighbours on Downing Street when he was chatting to Lobbydog about the pre-budget report last night.

He said: “Alistair has to decide whether he goes into posterity as a responsible Chancellor of the Exchequer, or whether he plays silly politics at the behest of the Prime Minister.

“He won’t be Chancellor very long now anyway. Gordon wanted to get rid of him and bring in Ed Balls at the last reshuffle and in the unlikely event that Brown wins the next election he will sack him and do just that.

“He must decide if he wants to play silly games and politics with his last few months or whether he will talk responsibly about the problems the country faces and set out in detail how the Government plans to tackle them.”

Good old game playing. But the thought must have crossed Darling’s mind that even if Labour does win he’ll be for the chop.

I’ll be watching Ed Balls' face during the PBR today.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Labour has not done the business

Lobbydog noticed a long time ago that when the PM talked about numbers of businesses Labour had helped during the recession, he focused on those that had been able to defer taxes.

That’s all very well. But it struck me that deferring taxes was something companies sorted out themselves with the Inland Revenue, once Government had given the go ahead.

What about all the schemes involving action from DBIS, HM Treasury and banks.

I’m talking about the likes of the Capital for Enterprise Fund and the Working Capital Scheme. Initiatives that seemed to regularly pop out of Government departments like cuckoos from a cuckoo clock.

The Tories have been keeping their eye on this too it seems and sent over the following information. Lobbydog will be taking them to DBIS to see what they have to say.

Capital for Enterprise Fund

A £75 million fund to invest in small businesses needing equity, announced on January 14.

Only seven businesses have received money from the fund in its eleven months of operation.

BIS Working Capital Scheme

A scheme pledging £10 billion in guarantees to cover credit to businesses with a turnover of up to £500 million a year, announced January 14.

The Government provides banks with guarantees covering 50% of the risk on existing and capital projects worth up to £20 billion.

It was delayed for months, and then agreements were only signed with three banks (RBS, Natwest and Lloyds) for £2 billion, a fifth of the scheme’s original allocation.

Rosie Winterton recently announced that the remaining funding for this has been reallocated.

UK Innovation Investment Fund

A £1 billion scheme to invest in innovative business, announced 6 months ago.

No investments yet made. It has not appointed a fund manager.

BIS Trade Credit Insurance Scheme

The scheme allows suppliers which have seen trade credit reduced to buy taxpayer-guaranteed ‘top-ups’ worth up to £2 million, announced in April.

Some £5 billion in insurance was pledged, but only 72 firms have benefited. Only £13 million – or 0.4% of the £5 billion allocated to the scheme – has been handed out.

BIS Automotive Assistance Programme

The programme involves two forms of help for car manufacturers. One involves guarantees to unlock loans of up to £1.3 billion. The other involves loans or loan guarantees to support up to £1 billion of lending.

No loans have been made. A loan was offered to one car firm, but the company rejected because it thought it could get a better deal elsewhere.

Lunch with Bremner

Lobbydog is going to a lunch with Rory Bremner later – a taste of what I hope to see.

Monday 7 December 2009

Not so brief briefing

There were many Qs at lobby today about public sector pay after the PM said civil servants who earned over £150,000 would be named. Try reading out loud the answer given to one question below.

Hack: Just to check on the speech today. The Prime Minister talked about people working for publicly funded broadcasters and anyone earning over £150,000. Will this mean actually publishing their salaries or what will that actually mean?

PM’s spokesman Simon Lewis: First of all the chief secretary will approve pay levels in excess of £150,000 for all civil servants. And that is with immediate effect and that is obviously on appointment, so it’s not retrospective. Any job application or advertisement that goes live now, that is in process. [In] a category of jobs where ministerial approval is not required, then the expectation will be that the relevant secretary of state will expect all organisations in their sectors, where there are salaries in excess of £150,000 to publicly justify those. So this is about transparency, which we think is very important as well. Ditto any bonus over £50,000. The other important point of this is Bill Cockburn has been asked by the Prime Minister, and he is writing to him today, to look at the whole area of public sector pay in respect of those earning above £150,000. Bill will put together a group, which I think will comprise, for guidance, the senior salary reviews pay review body plus other representatives and they will report by the time of the budget. So the really important point here is the principles. The Government can obviously take control of those jobs where we have direct responsibility for signing them off, but there’s a raft of jobs, for your point, including organisations which are covered directly by ministerial appointment where we think it’s really important that we use the principles of transparency and accountability to shine light on them. There’ll probably be certain categories that will not be covered by this, clinicians probably being one category. But the driving principle here is the Prime Minister’s very strong view that it is time for a complete change in culture in the top pay in the public sector and this is a very effective way of moving this forward and clearly we want to make sure that the Cockburn Review looks as widely as possible. That’s probably a rather long winded answer to your question, but does it kind of cover what you were asking?

Hack: Well, no.

Winds of change? More like hot air.

A wind-swept Peter Luff appears, gazing into the distance, on the front of the latest issue of House Magazine today.

He has popped up a lot more recently as he, and others in the party, try to indicate to Cameron that they should not be forgotten if the Tories win power.

He has always come across pompous if you ask me – on his website he points out how important his own role is with the Business Select Committee.

He says in today’s interview: “The Mail's Quentin Letts comes along to watch me having a row with Peter Mandelson.”

It might be that. Or it might be that he comes to watch Peter Mandelson eating you for breakfast.

Hoon love

Of Geoff Hoon’s many talents Lobbydog never thought match-making would be one of them.

All cherub-like, the former Defence Secretary shot his arrow of love at Tony Blair’s son Euan, according to Mandrake.

Hoon apparently hooked him up with Suzanne Ashman, the 21-year-old daughter of motor racing tycoon Jonathan Ashman – who himself married Sian Lloyd recently, who herself used to be with Lib Dem oddball Lembit Opik, who himself just broke up with his underwear-model girlfriend.

Natter, natter.